The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the Saudi-led coalition has released a group of another 104 Yemeni detainees from the kingdom’s jails after simultaneous prisoner exchanges between the warring sides in the impoverished country.
Jessica Moussan, the ICRC media adviser, made the announcement on Monday and said two of the humanitarian group’s planes — carrying 48 prisoners each — flew to the capital Sana’a, while a third with eight captives headed for the port city of Aden in the south.
Moussan said the “unilateral” release was outside the terms of the three-day exchange that was negotiated between Yemen’s Ansarullah resistance movement and the Saudi-backed former Yemeni regime.
“We welcome this initiative and are pleased to see that humanitarian considerations are being taken for the sake of reuniting families,” the ICRC media adviser said, adding, “This will bring immense relief to the families of the detainees.”
Moussan said the ICRC is “facilitating” the transfer by providing air transport and logistical support, and by interviewing the captives.
Confirming the extra releases, the Saudi-led coalition’s spokesman Turki al-Maliki said they completed the prisoner exchange and that the “extension of previous humanitarian initiatives” is aimed at helping “stabilize” the lapsed truce and create an “atmosphere of dialogue.”
The release of 104 captives, days before the major Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, takes the total number to 973 freed since Friday.
The two sides agreed during negotiations in Switzerland last month to free 887 detainees and to meet again in May to discuss further releases. The deal was overseen by the United Nations envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, and the ICRC.
Saudi Arabia launched the bloody war against Yemen in March 2015 in collaboration with a number of its allies and with arms and logistics support from the US and several Western states to reinstall former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who resigned from the presidency in late 2014 and later fled to Riyadh amid a political conflict with the popular Ansarullah movement.
The war objective was also to crush the Ansarullah movement, which has been running state affairs in the absence of an effective government in Yemen. However, it has stopped well shy of all of its goals, despite killing tens of thousands of Yemenis and turning the entire country into the scene of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.